Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket # 338187; Unpublished
Judges Swartzle, Cavanagh, Kelly; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
Compulsory Insurance Requirements for Owners or Registrants of Motor Vehicles Required to Be Registered [§3101(1)]
Disqualification of Uninsured Owners / Operators for Noneconomic Loss [§3135(2)]
Definition of Owner [§3101(2)(h)]
In this unanimous unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition ruling against Plaintiff Theodis Willis (“Willis”), in which the trial court held that Willis was disqualified from no-fault benefits under MCL 500.3113(b) and disqualified from bringing a third-party action under MCL 500.3135, because Willis was an owner of the vehicle he was operating at the time of the accident, he did not have his own insurance policy on the vehicle, and the policy that insured the vehicle was taken out by his girlfriend, who the trial court found was not a constructive owner of the vehicle. In reversing the trial court, the Court of Appeals determined that summary disposition was not appropriate because there were questions of fact regarding whether Willis’ girlfriend was a constructive owner of the vehicle, and if it was determined that she was the constructive owner, then co-Defendant Defendant Progressive Insurance (“Progressive”) would be required to pay first party PIP benefits and Willis would not be disqualified from bringing non-economic damages in his third-party tort action.
Willis was involved in a motor vehicle collision with a vehicle owned by Defendant William Fodal (“Fodal”). Willis’ vehicle had a no-fault policy provided by Progressive. However, this policy was not purchased by Willis, but instead by his live-in girlfriend, Heather Davis (“Davis”). Davis was only listed as a driver on the no-fault policy. Progressive refused to pay Willis any benefits under the policy. Willis brought a first-party claim against Progressive and a third-party negligence claim against Fodal. Progressive asserted that Willis failed to maintain no-fault insurance as required in MCL 500.3101(1) and so his first-party action was barred under MCL 500.3113(b)1. Fodal also asserted that Willis failed to maintain no-fault insurance as required in MCL 500.3101(1) and so his third-party action was barred under MCL 500.3135(2)(c). The trial court granted summary disposition for Progressive and Fodal. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order for summary disposition against Willis.
The Court of Appeals found that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding Davis’ ownership of the vehicle under the No-Fault Act. Willis argued that he had the proper no-fault insurance for his vehicle under 500.3101(1) because his girlfriend Davis was a constructive owner who purchased no-fault insurance for the vehicle. Therefore, MCL 500.3113 did not bar his first-party claim against Progressive and MCL 500.3135(2)(c) did not bar his third-party claim against Fodal. The Court cited to Barnes v Farmers Ins. Exchange, 308 Mich. App 1, 6 (2014), which stated that the mere fact that someone procured a no-fault policy on the vehicle does not satisfy the requirement in MCL 500.3101(1), unless the person who procured that policy was an owner (or constructive owner) or registrant of the vehicle.
Viewing the evidence in a light that is most favorable to the non-moving party (Willis), the Court found that several pieces of evidence in the record supported Willis’ contention. First, Davis stated in an affidavit that she could access the vehicle whenever she wanted. Second, she had a set of keys to the vehicle in her home and had access to them “all the time.” Third, she did not need to ask for permission to use the vehicle. Fourth, she paid for services for the vehicle. Fifth, she paid for the vehicle’s fuel. Sixth, she drove the vehicle on numerous occasions. Seventh, the vehicle was generally garaged at her residence. The Court agreed that taken together these facts created a genuine issue of material fact regarding the constructive ownership of the vehicle.
“Because the vehicle was purchased in 2014 and the accident occurred in 2016, this allows for an inference that she could and did drive the vehicle without needing permission for a period greater than thirty days. See Twitchel, 469 Mich at 530-531. Moreover, given that she had free access to a set of keys and performed maintenance on the vehicle, a fact-finder could reasonably infer that her use was proprietary or possessory rather than just incidental. See Ardt, 233 Mich App at 690-691. Because, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, these facts allow for a reasonable inference that Willis’s girlfriend was a constructive owner, we conclude that the trial court erred by granting summary disposition in favor of Progressive and Fodal.”
Collectively, the Court viewed these pieces of evidence as creating a genuine issue of material fact. Thus, the Court overruled the lower court and vacated the order for summary disposition.
1The Court said the action was barred by “MCL 500.3113(4);” however, the authors believe the Court intended to say MCL 500.3113(b) since there is no MCL 500.3113(4).